Writing Flash Fiction: 5 Questions for Christine Sneed

“I try to approach each new session at my desk with humility. I know whatever confidence I feel will be fleeting. But I also remember the key: revision. That is the writer’s superpower.” Christine Sneed

Christine Sneed’s most recent books are Direct Sunlight, Please Be Advised: A Novel in Memos, The Virginity of Famous Men, and Paris, He Said. She’s also the editor of the short fiction anthology Love in the Time of Time’s Up. Her work has appeared in publications including The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, Ploughshares, New England Review, Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. She has received the Grace Paley Prize, an O. Henry Prize, and the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award, among other honors, and has been a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. She teaches for Northwestern University, Stanford University Continuing Studies, and Regis University.

On Wednesday, March 13, Christine Sneed is teaching a class for the WLT called “Writing Flash Fiction: Prose with Precision and Power. In this class, you’ll read and discuss examples of several flash stories by established authors, and begin drafting your own flash stories that are informed by vivid concrete imagery and sensory detail.

Here’s what Christine had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Christine Sneed: I’m primarily a fiction writer, but my MFA degree is in poetry. I’ve published seven books—three novels and three short story collections, most recently Please Be Advised: A Novel in Memos and Direct Sunlight: Stories, and I edited the short fiction anthology Love in the Time of Time’s Up.

My parents are committed readers and books have always been a part of my life. I think it was in high school that I began to think seriously about making a life as a writer, but it wasn’t until my junior year of college when I studied in Strasbourg, France, that I realized I didn’t need permission from anyone to start writing and to take myself seriously as a writer.

Along with writing books, I teach creative writing for Northwestern University and Stanford Continuing Studies. I also write screen material and am a member of the WGA.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

CS: Most important is that I set non-punitive goals – a word count for a writing session I can actually see myself achieving. I also don’t get upset if I have to miss a day at my desk.

Every day I try to go for a long walk, and the experience of moving through the streets near my home, seeing the people and their dogs, the buildings, the passing cars, all the trees and vibrant flowers, helps to relax me, and sometimes I’m able to work through a knotty passage or a story’s narrative trajectory. It also takes me out of my thought-loop – doubts and frustrations are inevitable, but they will pass in time. In sum, moving and observing often help me go back to my writing with more energy and optimism.

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

CS: If only! There are occasional grace notes when I’m working on a story or a novel and I’ve landed on the right wording or a plot point that feels like a gift from the Muses, but usually I have to earn them by putting many hours and days into the manuscript. I try to approach each new session at my desk with humility. I know whatever confidence I feel will be fleeting. But I also remember the key: revision. That is the writer’s superpower.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

CS: If you find yourself stalled on a story, a novel, a poem, whatever is you’re writing, it can be helpful to start something new (and perhaps in a different genre) and work on that on and off when the first piece is giving you trouble.

You also can write out of sequence – you don’t need to write a story (or script or a play or even a poem) in a linear way. Many writers will write scenes out of order and later knit them into the story where they belong. And when you’re feeling uninspired, it can be helpful to read a few pages from a book you love. Letting someone else’s words enter along with the ones you’ve been wrestling with can be freeing. (Oops – I see that was three pieces of advice…!)

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

CS: I hope they’ll find a renewed or new sense of play in their writing and will notice even more than before the strange and wondrous world of the everyday that surrounds us—there is so much to see and hear and be engaged with.

Thanks, Christine!

Click here to learn more about Christine Sneed’s upcoming class.

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